I’m Going In – Star Wars Atari Games (1983)

I’m four films into the process of indoctrinating our five-year-old to the Star Wars universe, and it’s safe to say at this point that we’ve got a fan on our hands.  There have been a few course corrections; I wanted to go the Machete route of IV-V-(optional)I-II-III-VI, thinking I’d be telling the most complete story at the expense of my own enjoyment, but our little guy was so stressed over poor Han’s situation at the end of Empire that we pushed straight into Jedi to see how that all shook out.  It was the right move.  Jabba’s barge, man.

We’re in prequel territory now, and I have to say that watching it through his eyes makes this experience the most I’ve ever liked these films. He already prefers the Original Trilogy, even at five, but he’s nevertheless ALL-IN for a young Obi-Wan. Although I’m enjoying myself  I’m also pining for the OT and maybe that’s why this post is happening when it’s happening.  Oh also there’s a new Star Wars movie out and maybe that’s contributing.

The Atari 2600’s heyday and Star Wars fever almost perfectly overlap each other in their timelines, and when you factor in Star Wars’ penchant for merchandising you’ve got a real gold mine of entertainment on your hands. And money, too, a gold mine of money. It would have been enough for these games to represent Star Wars, they’d probably have been almost if not as profitable regardless, but they were actually pretty decent games. And they were marketed beautifully. That box art above is misleading; I’m only going to talk about the released titles and not the scrapped Return of the Jedi games.

What better representation of The Empire Strikes Back is there than the opportunity to re-create a single element of the Battle of Hoth that involves an Airspeeder against an AT-AT? It’s actually a solid game, if limited in scope.

The commercial for this one is quick and dirty, only fifteen seconds long, and was paired with a Frogger ad for maximum Parker Brothers’ reach.  It’s still an exciting spot.


Jedi Arena feels like a weird sort of “what-if?” territory for the Star Wars narrative, a training exercise for padawans that exists probably post-Jedi but maybe existed back in the prequel days but is never really a thing that can happen during the Original Trilogy even though there’s a Seeker ball in Episode IV but only one person battles it and also does it matter and why am I trying to timestamp it? It’s a simple two-player battle game with a really intriguing promise for a kid wanting to get further into the Star Wars universe.

It’s a simple premise, even simpler than the Empire Strikes Back game, but it works and looks pretty great for what it is. The ad does a good job of shrouding their Luke Skywalker-lookalike (Luke-alike? Sorry) in enough ambiguity that at a glance it appears that Mark Hamill is in that Jedi training seat.

The official Return of the Jedi title was Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle, and was the one Atari title to release in the same window of the movie.

Your task is to chip away at the Death Star in an almost-Arkanoid-fashion, and it looks great. This is a beautiful game with a great ad.

It seems out of order to place here, but the last 2600 Star Wars title is for the port of the Arcade game.  This game is personally significant; the cabinets were at a nearby YMCA and a skating rink where I grew up and I spent way too many quarters trying to live inside the vector beauty that was the Battle of Yavin.  Seeing this ad gives me chills from the sheer presence of that vector-based gameplay, in spite of how aggressively extreme the ad itself is .


There are other Star Wars games, of course, and there are better Star Wars games, too.  Dark ForcesRebel Assault, the NES titles, and the Battlefront series (even the recent one, post-updates) are amazing experiences.  Still, there’s something to be said about that early ’80s period where both this franchise and the enthusiasm around this franchise were something that was still new to the world, something that nobody had really seen before, and these games are really reflective of where the technology, the industry, and the fandom were at this moment.  Really, really special.






Is That Legal? – Coleco Adam Ads (1983)

It’s not enough, apparently, to have a successful video game console; there’s a long history of the industry trying to sweeten the appeal of the purchase by promoting or promising additional non-gaming features.  Sony wanted you to run Linux on your PS3, Microsoft wanted your Xbox One to be a cable box and DVR, Nintendo wanted your Gamecube to serve as a connection hub for four handheld consoles (sold separately), NEC wanted your TurboExpress to be a handheld TV Tuner, and the list goes on and on. It’s not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to do this, it’s just… when has this ever been a good thing?

Sometimes it’s the idea that’s awful, sometimes the world’s just not ready for the promise, and sometimes you’re just not ready to deliver on the promise.  That last one seems to have been the case with the Coleco Adam, 1983’s literal and figurative expansion on the Colecovision system.

The promise of the Adam was significant: an all-in-one home computer system, with printer, for $600. It would be available as a standalone unit or as an add-on to the Colecovision system, fulfilling an earlier promise made with the announcement of the game console.  It was an intriguing offer until it started to fall apart.  Over the course of development the price rose to $725, development of the printer and other technical issues repeatedly pushed back the launch window, and once the Adam did release it had an astonishingly high return rate due to defects.  It was essentially dead on arrival. That doesn’t mean it was a bad idea – Commodore and Atari both tried the same all-in-one approach after Coleco announced the Adam – it’s just that it never really worked out.

Coleco continued to market it, though. There’s a lot of great advertising for this mess and that’s what I wanted to take a look at today.  This first one features Lori Laughlin from Full House, questioning the legality of cut and paste.

This one is positioned at the (understandably) clueless parents who just want to throw money at tools designed to help children be smarter.

Another one in the same ballpark, leveraging a father’s insecurity about his son’s intelligence compared to the other children.  Feed money to that insecurity!

The approach shifts slightly to the competition here, showcasing the value you get with the Adam compared to Atari’s offering. Sorry, Atari!

All of the spots up to this point have been oddly aggressive. This next commercial is refreshing in the way it simply celebrates the features of the Adam.

I can’t imagine this spot worked well, though; things were dire for the Adam and aggression seemed necessary.  Coleco leaned hard into the ‘parental insecurity’ thing and actually offered a scholarship to anyone purchasing an Adam in the fall of 1984.

Here’s an accompanying print ad for the scholarship program.

It’s unfortunate for Coleco because the Adam was a pretty good idea and, if they’d been able to execute, it could have really changed the landscape of the ’80s.  Unfortunately it was what it was and no amount of advertising was able to save the Adam. Or Coleco.  And also, as a followup to my ‘when has this ever been a good thing’ question – playing Zelda Four Swords on the Gamecube with four linked Game Boy Advances was one of the best gaming experiences of my life.  That’s all. Here’s Four Swords. Maybe I’ll post on it sometime.




For Digestion’s Sake – Thanksgiving Ads (1940s-1990s)

Holiday traditions in the United States grow and change over the years, but there’s one constant: everyone wants a piece of your holiday spending money.  These Thanksgiving ads ranging from 1942 to 1991 showcase the different angles these companies took to try and get at your wallet. In doing so they speak to the design ideals of their respective eras and sometimes, unfortunately, reflect the cruder ideologies of those eras too. The looks of these ads aged really well, but their content sometimes didn’t.

This 1942 Birds Eye ad features a street peddler who tries to sell a passer-by some fresh “milky” corn for the Thanksgiving table.  The frame where the housewife is sticking it to Uncle Sam because the corn is so nutritious is a head-scratcher, as well.

The minimal, the amazing colors, and the two hearts over “goodness” aren’t enough to make up for the awful copy.  This one didn’t age well.

I LOVE that Budweiser angled themselves as the ‘high-end’ beer by leveraging how expensive it was for them to make it! The tiny plug for a radio show in the corner is an odd tactic that you don’t really see any more.

Cool-Whip touches on the anxiety of working in the kitchen while everyone else feasts.

If we’re being honest, the Thanksgiving thread in this Lucky Strikes ad is thin and confusing.  It’s basically saying, “Thanksgiving sucks for Turkeys for unrelated reasons, also please smoke.”  And the fortune teller at the bottom straight-up assumes you’re ugly.

Camel has the right idea – well, “right” if you want to integrate your product into a seasonal event where it has no significance.  They lean into the notion of digestive relief that smoking provides, and when I say ‘lean’, I mean they dive into it with a scientific/medical justification that’s as funny to read as it is sad and upsetting to think of all fo the people who bought these justifications hook, line, and sinker.

This one’s great. Macy’s cancelled the Thanksgiving Parade from 1942 to 1944 due to the security concern and resource drain that the parade would cause as well as the fact that the balloon materials were being donated to the war effort.  A grim reason to break the tradition, for sure, but this ad explaining their position is all class.  And beautiful.

Mid-Century Living’s got a great feature on this Pyrex spread in the 1955 Better Homes and Gardens.  Enjoy the look and feel of these pages and head over there for more details.

As we head into the 1980s and 90s, the food takes a back seat to the stuff. The food’s still there, but it’s as much about what to watch on TV after the food and where to shop once you’re done eating.  It’s interesting to see the consumerism slowly begin to eclipse the other aspects of the holiday, as Black Friday is introduced as a pleasant experience…

Zayre really hammers home that the only valuable part of Thanksgiving is the food and that once that food is gone it is in your best interest to get as far away from your family as possible and also spend some money at Zayre.

Sears paints the after Thanksgiving shopping experience as a pleasant, spacious stroll through the store to buy a bunch of obsolete technology.

What did I miss? Any ads from past Thanksgivings stand out in your memory? Let me know!




Commodore Vic 20 Print Ads

Selling a computer in 1982 had to be pretty tough. For one thing, they were super expensive. For another thing, you had (at least) two different types of customers. On one side, there’s a really informed audience that wanted to know what specs your company brought to the table that made you better than the other guys. On the other side, you had an increasingly interested consumer base that knew nothing about the technology and needed to know why they needed a computer in the first place.

This set of Commodore Vic-20 ads does a good job illustrating the differences in marketing to each group. In this first ad you’ve got 1980s Geek-Jesus William Shatner running through detailed spec comparisons and software offerings in a very busy layout.

And for the know-nothings, a clean and elegant ad that throws just enough jargon out there to get a few polite head nods and a consideration at getting this instead of an Apple.

Which one speaks to you?



Five Things – 5.29.17 – A Swinging New Way To Spend The Summer

Meet Us In September

“Meet Us In September” was the slogan for the ABC Network’s Fall 1969 lineup. These sizzle reels capture all of the programming news of the 1969 season. There’s so much to love about this campaign! The font choice and graphic work is fantastic, both in the overall face of the campaign and the show-specific stuff:

Not sure what to make of this Johnny Cash segment.


Here’s a compilation. The Bewitched promo is interesting, too – really assumes you already know what the whole show is about. Which, I guess, in a three-network world in 1969, is a pretty safe assumption.



Dynamix 1989 Video Catalog

This reel of upcoming games from the small-ish (bigger now that they were acquired by Sierra) game company Dynamix is earnest and sweet.  A-10 Tank Killer was on a heavy rotation in my house. David Wolf: Secret Agent looks like something right out of Decker.


Pennywise – Microwave Cooking (1985)

There are few things more comfortingly charming than seeing these two British women in 1985 discussing the merits of the microwave. Using “units consumed” as an indicator of value, no less! Is this an alternate reality?

Luna (1965)

I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what I’m watching here – particularly in the first half without subtitles.  When you imagine the Soviet side of the Space Race presented to children, though, I doubt you imagine something this beautiful, colorful, and hopeful.  The second half presents an inspiring vision of our future in space.  Imagine where we’d be if we’d worked together on this back then.


The Cure’s First TV Appearance

Robert! Put on your long hair!

Is there any time that a live performance of “A Forest” isn’t a contender for the best part of your day?